Everything old is new again at the former Dr. Matt Gajewski Human Services Center, including the name. Only the address and funky 1970s exterior of the two-story building on Buffalo’s outer East Side remain the same.
Erie County spent about $2.5 million to bring the health care facility into the 21st century with state-of-the-art examination rooms, digital record-keeping, and a floor plan designed for coordination of services.
The rehabilitation represents a 180-degree turn from four years ago, when the center was shut down by then-County Executive Chris Collins as he sought to cut nonmandated services.
Today, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and representatives from Catholic Health Systems and other providers will cut the ribbon at the new Erie County Health Mall, 1,500 Broadway. At the same time, they say they also are inaugurating a new way of assuring that all Erie County residents have access to quality health care – without using county employees to provide it.
“You cannot have a health care dead zone in a primary community,” Poloncarz said, explaining the decision to reopen the facility. “What we realized was (the closure) was creating a hole in county health care for a community that really needed these services.”
Those services go beyond primary medical care. “If you drive around this neighborhood, you’d be hard-pressed to find a dentist or mental health services,” Poloncarz pointed out.
Both are included in the Health Mall. To make it all work, the county is partnering with the University at Buffalo Dental School and nonprofit mental health care providers Lake Shore Behavioral Health and Mid-Erie Counseling, along with Catholic Health.
“We knew we had to find a way to bring the clinic back, but not as a county-run facility,” Poloncarz said. “It will not be staffed by the county because, truthfully, we couldn’t afford to do that.”
The only county employees will be the security staff and a building manager. All other workers will be employed by the building’s new tenants.
Catholic Health will be moving its St. Vincent Health Center from cramped quarters on Bailey Avenue to the Broadway location. The new space will allow the center to expand its services to include more prenatal care, a critical need in the facility’s neighborhood. According to Dr. Gale R. Burstein, Erie County health commissioner, the 14212 ZIP code area where the clinic is located has the region’s highest number of women with little or no medical care during pregnancy.
“We’re hopeful this will improve outcomes for babies and their mothers,” Burstein said.
The services, however, are strictly for adults. There is no pediatric component right now.
The clinic will be open to all Erie County residents and will accept all kinds of insurance, but most patients are expected to come from the East Side and the southern part of Cheektowaga. Poloncarz said it is hoped that Medicaid patients who now rely on emergency rooms for primary care will make use of the clinic, receiving more timely care at lower cost to the county.
Right now only the Lake Shore clinic is open. Mid-Erie expects to start seeing patients May 19, and Catholic Charities and UB Dental are moving in at the end of May.